Last week, Equifax disclosed that they have discovered a breach of their consumer data systems that occurred between mid-May and July 2017. The scope of the breach is estimated at 143 million consumers. For perspective, the population of the US is about 325 million, so as much as 45% of the US may be affected, and that percentage increases significantly when you consider that children and those without credit are excluded. For more information from Equifax or to check to see if you may be affected, you can go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
Why is this breach different? Typically with a data breach, specific account information is compromised, and we can close accounts or change card numbers to reduce our risk. In this case, the data compromised is the type of data needed to open new accounts on your behalf–data like names, SSNs, birthdates , addresses, and driver’s license numbers that are not easily changed.
How to Monitor Your Data
- Equifax is now offering free monitoring for anyone affected; however, using their service may limit your legal recourse so read the fine print of this offer carefully. You can also opt to pay for a third-party service for credit monitoring, IDShield and LifeLock are two popular services.
- Check your bank records frequently for unexpected charges. Remember, the compromised data could be used to open new accounts and link payment of those services like Amazon or NetFlix to an account you hold. Continue to check your bank records and statements for several months as your data may not be used right away. A good cyber-hygiene step is to set a reminder in your calendar to do this every month.
- Get your free credit report from each bureau. You can do this by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
- You can request a freeze on your credit accounts. This will not allow activity on the account until you provide a PIN or other identifier. It can be a hassle, but it’s less of a hassle than identity theft! To do this, you can contact each credit bureau at these numbers:
- Set up fraud alerts with each credit bureau. A fraud alert requires a credit card company to verify your identity before opening any account on your behalf. To request a fraud alert, you can call each bureau at these numbers:
- Rinse, repeat. Remember to repeat these steps for each family member that has active credit.
- Be diligent. With an influx of 143 million records, your data may not be used right away. It’s a good idea to keep checking your bank records each month for anything suspicious. Identity thieves love to use stolen data to file fraudulent tax returns in the hope of receiving refunds. The IRS has some helpful information about tax fraud here.
Know the Signs of Identity Theft
- Seeing unexplained withdrawals from your bank accounts
- Not getting mail or bills (implying your address has been changed)
- Receiving calls from debt collectors about debts you don’t recognize
- Finding errors on your medical records that don’t match with your history